What it's like to bring in six figures as an influencer, according to Natalie Zfat

Natalie Zfat
Natalie Zfat.
Courtesy Cory Popp

In December 2017, a freelancer at my social media company ordered, stuffed, and shipped out 32 emoji-shaped pinatas — one to every client we worked with that year — as a holiday present.

Within 24 hours, you could watch on Instagram Stories as the marketing teams at WeWork, Food Network, and Samsung beat the you-know-what out of the aforementioned pinatas. Candy, Purell, and ChapStick flew everywhere. (Winter was coming. Give the people what they need, I say.)

When you work in the business of social media influence, this scene is just another day at the office.

The $3,500 we spent on the gifts, including the pinatas, the delivery, and the cost of labor, came to less than 1% of our annual revenue — and counted as our only marketing expense of the calendar year. But as a social media entrepreneur, I see it as more of an investment.

My social media company, @NatalieZfat, Inc., founded in 2010, brings in mid-six figures annually. We create content for some of the largest brands in the world, including Samsung, LinkedIn, and Ford.

At 33 years old, I earn a living (with the help of five freelancers) by providing content for our 30-something clients — and once-a-year holiday gifts. Here are some of the financial pros and cons of running a social media business.

Pros: I often get freebies

As a person who gets hired to post about hotels and airlines and technology products, I'll be the first to admit: I save a lot of money on everyday expenses. I haven't purchased a computer, phone, or technology device in recent years, since technology brands are my biggest client base.

I rarely pay for clothing, since companies often offer me items to wear on-air. And I take at least three trips a year where I don't have to pull out my wallet, though it's worth mentioning that these are often work trips where I'm expected to post to social media, with a few extra days built in for sightseeing.

In the last year, I can estimate that I've received $5,000 in gratis tech, including phones, $8,000 in clothing, and $20,000 in trips including travel, hotel, and other perks.

But before you quit your day job to become an influencer, it's worth noting that there are a lot of areas I do invest in that most people over the course of their lifetimes will never have to.

Cons: Getting 'gram-ready costs money

As with any small business owner, staff, health care, and office costs top the list of my expenses. But as a content creator, I also shell out thousands per month on photography, advertising, and glam. On a recent vacation to Park City, I hired a photographer for $500 (including a $75 rush fee) so that I could produce one Instagram carousel post the next day.

Five hundred dollars for one Instagram might seem steep, but I publish about 300 posts yearly, and because social media essentially functions as my resume, Instagram is one of my most important investments.

If I'm working on a project where I want to get more eyeballs than the few hundred thousand people who follow me, I might also pay $200 or more for advertising for a single post.

And at least one day per week, I can be found running between hair appointments, makeup applications, and manicures, because when Samsung Mobile is your biggest client, hand close-ups are a thing.

As with any business, the only way to make a social media business work for 10 years is to get the numbers to add up. Last year, my company was able to save 29% of what we earned. And as of October 1, we will use part of those savings make our first full-time hire: a brand manager who has been freelancing for us for five years.

Running a social media business can be 24/7, but if you're willing to put in the time, find great people to help you manage clients, and think outside the pinata, I'll be the first to say: It's worth it.

Natalie Zfat is a social media entrepreneur who was recently honored by WeWork for having "cracked the code of the freelance economy." Follow her on Instagram @nataliezfat.

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